My Beerchasing exploits – visiting over 350 bars since starting this hobby in 2011, have taken me to only two previous Washington establishments – the Pour House in Port Townsend in 2012 and a recent review of Loowit Brewing in Vancouver, Washington.
The opportunity to have beers with three members of the wonderful Magnusson clan in Seattle, provided the motivation to add another. My affection for Jon, Jamie and Rob Magnusson is well founded since Jamie (with the baseball cap below) is one of my two son-in-laws – also because they are wonderful and interesting individuals.
Now married for twelve years, Jamie met my oldest daughter, Lisa, while both were students at the University of Washington. All three of the guys are Huskies – a long family tradition with football season tickets going back about sixty years.
Jon’s structural engineering firm – Magnusson Klemencic Associates did the engineering work on the revised Husky Stadium several years ago. In fact MKA is recognized as one of the top five sports facility engineering firms in the US and their portfolio reflects NFL, NBA, MLS, MLB and collegiate projects.
Some preliminary research on north Seattle dive bars to find one near Lake Forest Park – where they all reside – yielded a compelling choice – The Caroline Tavern in nearby Lake City. It was listed in a Google search on “Ten Seattle dive bars “with a good reputation” (although those two words may be a contradiction in terms).
“A bustling hangout place for a cross-section of ages, ethnic groups as well as subcultures..” (We were probably part of the subculture category.)
And this historic bar was, in fact, a great choice which we all enjoyed (as was the case at the Lake City site of the Elliot Bay Brewery where we had dinner afterwards). That said, since I claim some background on what constitutes a dive bar, I question whether the Caroline fits neatly into that description as discussed below.
The following excerpt about the Caroline is from a wonderful blog I discovered doing subsequent research. I say “wonderful” because Seattlebar.org has the same mission as my own – Thebeerchaser – only my journey pales compared to blogger, Pete Andrejeski‘s, exploits in the pursuit of this worthy goal..
This Seattle resident has had a drink in 3,840 bars of which 1,6049 are Seattle watering holes. Now there are some that say Thebeerchaser’s 350+ visits and reviews over the last eight years is notable, but equating the two blogs is like comparing Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to a kid on the jungle gym at a local playground….
Pete stated in his post on the Caroline:
“There is no doubt that the Caroline is one of the 20 to 30 oldest bars in Seattle. The Caroline itself includes mentions of a start date in 1933. (probably at another location until 1940) In the late 30s and early 40s the Caroline was owned by Mrs. Mary McNulty. “
Actually, the bar’s written history provided to me by Sarah, our friendly bartender, starts with the following historical narrative:
“There are references to the Caroline Tavern as early as 1926, with only four owners for the entire history, but city records indicate that Mary McNulty was the owner of record in 1933…….legend has it that she named it after her cat or her aunt, but there is a picture of Mary in the bar to this day and she is holding a cat.
The current building was constructed before Prohibition. Mary eventually sold the bar to Jack Kelly for one dollar. Pictures of Jack in fifty year increments are featured at the bar as well. Mr. Kelly was a boxer, hence the bell from a boxing ring in the bar now, which is rung when the house buys a round……Legend has it that Will Rogers and Wiley Post ate and drank there after playing polo at the Olympic Riding and Driving Club.”
As stated above, the Caroline was listed in Google as a dive bar and a number of the social media reviews also describe it as a dive.
That said, while there may not be a distinct dividing line, between what constitutes a dive versus a neighborhood watering hole, I offer this background on dives from one of my earlier blog posts: https://thebeerchaser.com/2011/09/18/analyzing-dive-bars-head-first/
Unlike the typical dive bars I have visited the Caroline is in a wonderful, large old house with an attractive front entry.
Now compare this with two of Portland’s fabled dives – the Ship Tavern in Multnomah Village and the Yamhill Pub – right in downtown Portland and known for being one of the top sellers of PBR in the State of Oregon.
I would suggest that one would never see two life-size wooden nutcrakers “guarding” the entrance to a hard-core dive bar. Take a look at these two right inside the front door.
(No one at the bar when I was there could tell me the story of how these two festive “soldiers” became permanent fixtures at the Caroline, but I doubt you will see another dive with this type of décor).
Not to get too carried away with trying to pigeonhole this bar, but three other factors that argue for the “neighborhood” bar category:
1. Sitting on a shelf right below the large screen TV in corner were three VCR and one DVD movies as shown in the picture below. Now, I don’t know if the VCR even worked, but tell me a dive bar where one would have ever seen videos starring Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen or Victor Herbert’s “Naughty Marietta.”
2. The Caroline was only the third bar in which I have seen a coin-operated breathalyzer. Perhaps this is making an inferential leap, but I think this reflects a concern for patrons and the surrounding community verses a more laissez faire approach typical of dive bars.
3. The Caroline keeps track of the birthdays of regulars and posts these. I didn’t have time to check to whether that meant that you should buy “Baby Ryan” a Budweiser when you are there in October or whether the bar provides a complimentary draft, but it’s a nice touch.
Now, whereas one should avoid generalizations, dive bar regulars, while generally not hostile to newcomers as is the stereotype, tend to stick to themselves, play pool or ignore strangers. The Caroline seems to defy this image – in fact, according to Pete:
“(On the patio in back) we found two large, circular porch tables surrounded by outdoor, plastic chairs. It was quite clear that these were communal tables. Our addition to the deck, upon first appearance, seemed to bring the group count to 4. 4 groups, 2 tables…this is the kind of place where you grab a chair right next to a stranger and join in the conversation.
It wasn’t long until we were ‘welcome[d] home’ by the regulars. It seems that this is a traditional phrase at The Caroline. “Welcome home”. To say the very least, home was quite an experience.(emphasis supplied)
We chatted with a bricklayer who was drinking Busch Light, a carpenter who was sipping on Jagermeister and pounding bottles of Bud, a rapper and producer who, well I don’t know what the hell he was intoxicated with, and the list goes on… We had entered a very diverse world of locals, who all seemed to know each other in some way or another. Well, they knew each other as regulars at The Caroline, and it was quite a social experiment to enter the pack.
I still walked away with a fond feeling of family and community — something that is becoming more and more rare in the big city. “
I experienced this aspect to some extent myself on my second visit on a weekday morning at 10 AM when I found the bar stools all occupied by hard core regulars – a number of whom were chasing their beers with Bushmills or Jamesons.
After taking a few photos I was invited to join Ashley and Phil, who were sitting at a side bar and when I told them about my blog, started filling me on other stories from the Caroline. They were nice people.
And finally, to bring this issue to a close, one has to be careful to draw conclusions from social media review sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor, yet they can be edifying if one looks at trends identified and in the context of other research.
So take these two excerpts from Yelp reviews on 3/21/19 and 11/23/18 respectively:
“Came in to enjoy a drink and play pool with a buddy who comes here often. The people were friendly the drinks were very reasonably priced and someone even brought over some salty snacks (I think it was another customer but gives you a idea of the vibe here) the guys playing pool here we’re some of the best I ever seen extremely friendly giving me advice on how to better my game.
Had a great time if you want to have a good drink with friendly people that u can’t go wrong here.”
“We walked in and you can tell right away this is a locals kinda joint were there are a lot of regulars. They were doing a pot-luck style thanksgiving with the pool table transformed into a makeshift table….We were warmly greeted by the regulars there and overall this seems like a really cool place to grab some drinks….”
Perhaps it was because I enjoyed the companionship of the Magnussons at this bar, but the Caroline, regardless of whether one’s opinion of what type of bar it is, is a great place to stop, have one of inexpensive beers on tap, get a salty snack and enjoy the refreshing vibe and ambiance and be “Welcomed Home.”
Now I found the Caroline after some cursory internet research, unlike the questionable intellect of the Yelp reviewer below from 4/27/15 (and one who affirms my point about being careful about over-reliance on social media).
Perhaps this guy (he goes by the name “Kris Loudmouth T”) needs to just stay home and watch old reruns of “Full House,” rather than exploring the big world outside…..
“It’s almost like they don’t want new customers. It took me 20 years to find out the name of this place…” (emphasis added)
Since the selection of food at the Caroline is limited and we were hungry, we decided to hit the nearby Lake City Pub of Elliot Bay Brewing – a nice pub, but not with the same character is our previous stop.
That said, the special that night – “fully loaded chipotle carnitas nachos” was memorable and we went home with appetites more than satisfied and cholesterol elevated.
(Jon Magnusson did some calculations to determine the static load of this Happy-Hour offering to determine if the plate would sustain the mass presented by the edibles it supported. His conclusion was that it would – at least for the moment……)